America finally broke the chains of the British and regained its right to freedom on…the fourth of July? No! Not here in Exeter! The famous Independence Day is actually on July 16th in rebellious Exeter.
Back in the old days, social media was unknown. The time needed to get the word out was so slow that it took twelve extra days for the small town of Exeter to hear about the news from Philadelphia. However, Exeter certainly isn’t left behind with the festivities. Every year, the American Independence Festival draws many people from both uptown and downtown.
Reenactors dress up in their fancy 18th century clothes, talk about history and demonstrate some long-forgotten skills.
The first person in costume you would see when you walk into the fair is a tinner banging with his tools. The tinner went by the name Brother Jonathan, and was played by Larry Leonard, who “can work in copper, in brass, in all sorts of neat things like that.” When we took a closer look at what the tinner was making, we saw a small object that resembles a cheese grater, but it was in fact, a nutmeg grater. “If you had any money at all, in the 18th century, you would buy a nutmeg and a grater, so that you can show that you had class, and that you had money, and that you were rich,» he said. Basically, everyone in the 21st century would be considered rich by the tinner.
The next person who caught our attention was an elderly lady sitting behind a booth. Her name was Carol Welch, who has been a reenactor for twelve years. “We enjoy our hobby very much, and we try to be as authentic as possible,” she said. This was her fifth festival. Aside from the fair, “other members of our group, when we go into schools and things, they talk about the Revolutionary War, they talk about muskets, they talk about the flags. We have a variety of topics.” Just the usual for these hard-working reenactors.
Among the many people who were demonstrating skills from the past, was a spinner named Dorothy Duclos who has been spinning thread for several years now, and it was one of the fiber arts that she was “looking forward to learning and mastering.” She learned by “trying on my own and then taking a class and knowing people who have been spinning much longer than I had.” This was her seventh year at the festival. When asked what she thought of the fair and the festivities, her answer was: “It’s great. In fact, this year, I think it’s even better than previous years because some of the other demonstrators we never even saw here before. The dress maker, the people down there who are preparing different foods, the shoe maker beside us. Those groups haven’t been here before, and I think that gives a nice rounding out of skills of old that many people have no idea how to do anymore.”
Another person similar to Ms. Duclos was Bruce Graham, a shoemaker. It was his first year at the fair and he found it “fun. There’s a lot of cool people to talk to. I’m being able to educate people a little bit about the history of manufacturing in general. That’s kind of important.” He showed his passion by stating “I refer to it (shoemaking) as a divinely placed interest.” He has been making shoes for 30 years now. However, the best part of his job is being able to “boast that I haven’t bought a pair of shoes for myself in over 20 twenty years. It’s a cool thing to boast.”
Near the end of our interviews, we found someone with the British “away team”. Major Leet, played by Steven Leet, was a British engineering officer. He has been a reenactor for twenty-four years, and he’s “been here (the fair) for 10 or 15 years”. When we asked how it felt being with the “bad guys”, not breaking character, he arrogantly answered: “You’re with the good guys. We represent God, king and country. We represent the lawful government. What isn’t there good about being the good guys?”
He argued his case strongly: “One of the things you complain about back then was being ruled by a government three thousand miles away right? So what about the people living in California today? Don’t they live three thousand miles away from their government?” So should they all secede from the US because they’re three thousand miles away?
The fair ended with fireworks blazing in the sky—- paying homage to freedom and next year’s commemoration.